There's no reason to play Tua Tagovailoa vs. The Citadel, despite what Nick Saban says

Tua Tagovailoa needs to take the day off.

The further away he is from football competition against a mediocre FCS program on Saturday, the better. Come to think of it, the medical tent might be a good hiding place against The Citadel.

It would at least be symbolic. Tagovailoa's knee is -- and has been -- in question. It's been described as "sprained" and "tweaked" in recent weeks. Over the weekend, Nick Saban said his quarterback's knee was "fine."

Great! Then why make it the reason that No. 1 Alabama's College Football Playoff run is endangered?

With all due respect to the man who is making the call, there is no good reason for Tagovailoa to play. Forget third-string quarterback Mac Jones taking over; Tommy Lee Jones could beat The Citadel.

The idea is keep the right knee and the body attached to it as healthy as possible for the stretch run. You saw what happened Saturday when Mississippi State's Cam Dantzler crashed into it.

Tagovailoa limped off the field in the third quarter, done for the day. That day included four sacks by a rabid Mississippi State defense.

Bama got lucky. It doesn't need to be reckless.

You know the implications. Tagovailoa tweaks the knee further or it is twisted in a pile, and he could be done for the season. No one would be saying, "At least he got his reps against The Citadel."

"We're not going to take the approach that any opponent we play is not going to be competitive," Saban told reporters on Monday. "That may be your mindset. It's not my mindset, and I'm not going to take your suggestion on how I should manage this team."

Nobody is trying to manage the team, Nick. I bet a large portion of your fans would like to see Tagovailoa sit this one out. There is just too much bad that can happen in a game in which your best player simply does not need to participate.

Sure, Tagovailoa will most likely play just a quarter, but it all takes is one unfortunate hit. The implications are dastardly. Backup Jalen Hurts, who would still give the Tide a legitimate shot at their goals were Tagovailoa to be hurt, is out because of ankle surgery.

It doesn't look like Hurts is coming back anytime soon, either. So, why tempt fate?

To reiterate, Alabama is going to win the game. It's going to win the game and remain No. 1. It's going to win the game, remain No. 1, and tune up for Auburn.

And, just a guess here, Alabama has probably been practicing Auburn stuff for weeks. Does Tagovailoa's participation Saturday really matter?

"He needs to do a better job of stepping up in the pocket and getting rid of the ball, which he had several opportunities to do [against Mississippi State],"  Saban said. "You know, some of these hits can be avoided just by better execution.

"That's what we're going to focus on and not try to take a guy out of the game so he can't improve."

If it's a matter of improving, slap that green jersey on Tagovailoa and run more good-on-good drills. (First-team offense vs. first-team defense.) As good as those around him may be, Tagovailoa is Alabama's fire-starter -- the living embodiment of the nine-word phrase that sums up college football in this age.

If you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance.

Alabama has more than a chance with Tagovailoa. It has, to this point, the best player in the country, the projected Heisman Trophy winner.

We've already seen how prudence works. Tagovailoa didn't play in a fourth quarter until Nov. 3 at LSU. Games were in hand. Read this carefully: There was no reason risking his health in a blowout.

A blowout is already assured on Saturday. The Citadel is that built-in November FCS bye that several SEC teams enjoy. The idea -- without saying it -- is to schedule an elaborate scrimmage while getting ready for your biggest rival.

Alabama has a chance to win a sixth national championship under Nick Saban. It has a chance to end the discussion regarding the greatest dynasty ever.

It has a chance to make sure its star quarterback doesn't get hit. The only way to assure that is to sit him. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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